When Derek Lalonde started coaching the Detroit Red Wings, players quickly realized that he brought some of the Tampa Bay Lightning success with him.
“When we went into training camp and saw clips of what we were going to be doing and how we were going to be playing, there was a lot of seeing Tampa do it,” Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin said. “I think it is easy to get behind because it’s had success, it’s proven in what they do.”
Lalonde was a Tampa Bay assistant coach for both of their recent Stanley Cup championships. Lalonde hasn’t transformed the Red Wings into the Tampa Bay Lightning. But we will see how the two teams compare Tuesday when they meet in Tampa. Lalonde has changed the team’s approach to playing the game. They are playing a simpler defensive style, paying more attention to preventing high danger scoring chances. The Red Wings were last in the NHL in that statistic last season, and today they rank 11th.
The Red Wings rank eighth with an average of 15.68 blocked shots per 60 minutes, and they are 14th in hitting. Even though Lalonde isn’t happy with the team’s consistency 5-on-5, the Red Wings’ scoring average of 3.17 goals-per-game ranks 15h.
Lalonde has even pushed hard on Larkin to be better in the defensive zone.
“Yeah there’s been some uncomfortable moments in video,” Larkin said. “That’s part of being a leader and part of being a top player. It’s meaningful when you’re in there and getting called out, because we’re all in this together and we all have to defend together and get better together. There has been some uncomfortable clips but I think it helps the group, it helps me.”
Lalonde appreciates Larkin’s full buy-in. “His commitment to doing the right things. He’s a big part of it,” Lalonde said. “He’s our No. 1 center, so he’s going to play in every single role. Limiting his turnovers. He’s limiting his mistakes in the D zone, which we need out of our top player. I just think his overall game has improved and there’s just some winning habits of his and commitment to doing things correctly. Right now he’s getting rewarded and our group’s getting rewarded.”
With the Red Wings taking on Tampa Bay, there will be tendency to compare Lalonde and previous Detroit coach Jeff Blashill. That’s unfair, given that general manager Steve Yzerman significantly upgraded the team’s roster last summer. Today’s roster has 10 players who weren’t on the team last season, including No. 1 goalie Ville Husso, and top-six forwards David Perron, Dominik Kubalik and Andrew Copp, plus top four defensemen Ben Chiarot and Olli Maatta.
Blashill had patchwork rosters that always come with rebuilding. Lalonde has a more proven roster. But certainly they have different approaches.
“Blash is a great person, a great coach,” Larkin said. “I think no matter what kind of team we had, we were always a close group and we always played hard. I think that’s a credit to him. There was a lot of days, a lot of years that it was very difficult coming to the rink. He always found a way to make sure the attitude of the group was good and that we were going to go to the next game prepared. Looking back, it’s something that I can imagine how hard it is, hard to go through it. To continuously do it, I applaud him for it.”
Larkin and Blashill talked often over the seven years they were together. They talked after he was fired.
“He understands that happens to coaches, happens to players,” Larkin said. “It’s the business we’re in. We had a great conversation when it ended. I think we’ll continue to have a good relationship. Maybe not now when he’s working for Tampa, but when it’s all said and done.”
The Lalonde Way
What Larkin appreciates about Lalonde is his demeanor.
“I think he’s really calm, especially behind the bench,” Larkin said. “He kind of just analyzes and doesn’t say much, makes adjustments at the intermission and just has calmness….it never seems like we’re in panic mode, or anything like that.”
Lalonde also offers candid assessments of his team, like when he said publicly that the underlying analytics told him his team wasn’t quite as proficient as the team’s record might indicate. He keeps it real with his players and the fans.
Larkin said Lalonde has moved away from the Lightning theme video, although he clearly still incorporates what he learned in Tampa Bay.
“I think it’s shifted and I think it’s a good thing,” Larkin said. “But I thought it carried some weight when it was shown. Now we have our own stuff to kind of break down and beat up and I think it’s been really good. The video sessions are pretty short but they’re meaningful. How we practice is great as well. He’s prepared.
“The whole staff has done a great job. I think they understand, too, that we’re . . . Newsy said it many times after games that we’re still in the process of learning and learning the systems. Once we get them down it’s gonna all click.”